No matter what season it is, where you plan to go birding, or what birds you hope to see, it is important to carry the right supplies in your field bag. Being prepared with the proper gear means easier, safer, and more enjoyable birding. But exactly what should be in your bag?
Essential Birding Supplies
Every birder has different preferences for what gear to carry, but some items are essential for every type of birding, no matter your experience level.
You will always need a suitable reference for bird identification. Portable, lightweight field guides covering local or regional species are best. There are also a range of online and downloadable field guide apps that can be excellent options for helping you identify every bird you see.
You can’t identify birds that you can’t see. Birding binoculars should always be in your field bag or worn on a strap or harness for easy accessibility. Monoculars can also be a good option, and depending on the type of birding you do or where you go, a spotting scope may be your best optical choice.
Whether you want to take paper notes about the birds you see, make sketches, or just keep a basic sightings list, a notebook will help you keep track of your birding adventures. You can do this with a birding journal, a simple pad of paper, or a notes or text app on a tablet or smartphone.
Birders should always carry proper identification in the field. This is especially important when birding near private or protected lands, when authorities may request identification to ensure there is no improper use of the area. Birders in foreign lands may also want to carry a passport or copies of visa papers just in case.
Other Important Supplies
While few supplies may be needed if you are an experienced birder visiting an area you are very familiar with, many other supplies are equally important to help you be safe and comfortable while birding. You definitely should find room in your field bag for these types of items.
Many birders use a camera to create a visual list of birds they’ve seen, and photos can also help with identification by comparing photos to field guides. Along with your camera, be sure you have extra batteries, memory cards, and other accessories.
Staying hydrated can make a big difference for your comfort while birding, particularly in dry climates or on hot days. Bring a bottle of water, juice, or sports drink to stay refreshed, but limit diuretic drinks that can make you thirstier, such as alcohol, coffee, or caffeinated teas.
Whether you use it as a field guide, electronic notebook, map, or easy camera, a smartphone can be a highly portable birding tool. Be sure your phone is fully charged. Consider bringing along a battery recharging pack if you will be birding for several hours.
Depending on the weather conditions and where you will be birding, different protective products can be either essential or highly recommended for comfort. Sunscreen, insect repellent, and SPF-rated lip balm are all good choices to add to your field bag.
In addition to protective products, protective clothing can also be useful. A broad-brimmed hat, long-sleeved jacket, sunglasses, rain poncho, rubber boots, and similar attire can help protect you in different habitats and field conditions.
If you’re hungry, you may not pay as much attention to birds and could be tempted to stop birding early. Bringing along nutritious, high-energy snacks such as trail mix, fruit, a granola bar, or cheese and crackers to keep up your birding strength.
Trails can begin to look alike after you spend several hours birding, especially if you’re in an unfamiliar area or a preserve you don’t know well. Bring a trail map to keep yourself oriented. Or, snap a photo of a map at the trailhead so you have an instant reference.
A small pack of tissues or wet wipes can be very useful, not just for wiping your hands, but for wiping off a sudden splash on your field guide, camera, or optics. In a pinch, tissues can also be invaluable if restroom facilities may not be available or as well-kept as you’d prefer.
See also: A Dictionary of Birding Slang Terms
A smear across the lens of your camera or binoculars might interrupt a view or ruin a photo. A microfiber cloth, cleaning brush, or specialty wipes can help you keep your equipment in peak condition for optimal viewing.
A small supply of basic medication can help keep you comfortable so you don’t have to stop birding early. Add allergy pills, aspirin, or other medications to your field bag to stay healthy and fit for birding.
You never know when the unexpected might happen, even if you’re birding in an area you’ve visited many times before. Having emergency supplies available can make a critical difference to keep you safe until help arrives. If you don’t have these items in your field bag, they ought to be handy in your vehicle or another pack you can access:
- Flares or emergency lights
- Extra socks and gloves
- First aid kit
- Lighter or matches
- Multi-tool or pocketknife
- Emergency blanket
- Spare car key
The exact supplies you carry in your field bag will vary depending on where you are birding, the conditions of the habitat, your level of birding experience, your physical condition, the season, local climate, and other factors. Understanding which supplies are absolutely essential, which you ought to have, and what should be available for emergencies can help you pack your field bag with everything you need for safe, comfortable, well-prepared birding.